Why Shopkeeper Rules by Danica Evering (2014)
I guess that everyone falls in love in different ways over the course of our lives. Sometimes it happens with the soft springiness usually reserved for new grass, on a bus back to Guelph, your heads drawn together by shared new ideas and the taught tether of one ear bud each. Sometimes it’s slower, you hold the idea carefully, as if you were holding a glass marble in your mouth. It might be better not to ask why a marble, and instead just understand the feeling of cool weight, careful appraisal, cautious taste. Sometimes it happens suddenly and without warning. I think I fell in love with Shopkeeper in four different ways, with Alanna, Steph, and Scott separately, and then all together. And although they’ve only just bought the flashing neon open sign and are still contemplating whether or not to spring for the menu board permit, Shopkeeper is already one of my favourite bands in Guelph, and I feel like there was quite possibly something in the stars, in tealeaves in an overturned cup, or read in some greasy entrails: that I was destined to love this trio, having fallen quite hopelessly in love with them as individuals and musicians.
I first fell in love with Steph Yates as the frontswoman of Esther Grey when I was a crewmember working the workshop stage at Hillside. The band was playing a workshop set with Chad Vangaalen and Birds of Chicago and I think maybe Matt Cohen, and as they approached, I enthusiastically asked Steph, “Are you Esther?” My slip-tongued stumble was met with a grace and earnestness that echoed through their set, packed tight with Steph’s dreamy vocals and smooth surf guitar. She’s a thoughtful and curious polymath who I’ve come to know as a screen-printer, wood-cut maker, stop-motion animator, bookbinder, co-founder of a record label (Little Room Labs with her partner Tyson Brinacombe), videographer, elderflower-cordial-bottler, researcher, bassist, guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, and in this most recent project, an phenomenal drummer. She’s solid but not in a mechanical way, providing the band with a deep and steady heartbeat, one that skips in perfect time every so often. At their first concert, I remember wondering how Steph contained all of herself in one body. I still wonder that.
Alanna Gurr I fell in love with steadily, first with her sweet alto voice—I’d heard her name around town and discovered wistful songs to fall in and out of love to. We used to chat when she worked at Artisanale about the cross-country tour she was taking, playing music on the VIA train the whole long journey out west. When she later became my housemate, I would be drawn from my room after an afternoon nap, transfixed by her mellow twang and carefully strummed rhythms as new songs came into being. A child of new suburban settlers (her parents owned the first house in their south-end crescent, and she grew up among the houses there), she is an enterprising spirit, and Shopkeeper sees her perfecting her bass skills as she lays down a pulsing electric backbone and haunting chorus with each wending song.
Scott Haynes I knew by reputation alone for the longest time: as the prolific songwriter behind Bill Killionare, guitarist, and one of the distinct voices of Guelph. I first heard him play in a crowded basement of a house on Fountain St. under the guise of Pennyweb Portal. His particular flavour of raw folk-rock filled the room to its cobwebby, wood-panelled corners. With a tone reminiscent of other gravelly gentleman poets Bill Callahan or Will Oldham, Scott’s songs are steeped in thoughts of love and loss and longing, and Shopkeeper sees him solidifying many years of writing. Although their recent single, Belly Fire, muses, “If you’re waiting on a stable man/you may need to wait a while,” Scott’s songwriting is most definitely something to count on.
One frozen evening in early March, Shopkeeper played their first set at the Jimmy Jazz with Run Coyote. The room was jam-packed with friends and newcomers nodding to the music, drawn close, as to a campfire, by this brand-new trio. And in this moment that I fell in love with them as a group for the first time, the person by the pool table fell in love with Scott’s stark vocals, a line that stirred up old memories he’d forgotten to remember; a woman ordering at the bar turned her head, transfixed by the sudden swelling of Alanna’s mournful croon; a man closed his eyes in the light of a neon sign, the insistent pulse of Steph’s tom-tom echoing in his chest. We all fall in love in different ways. And I’m not sure quite how you’re going to fall in love with these guys. But I’m fairly certain that you’re going to fall in love.